Tag Archives: Richard Twyman

“Torn” at the Royal Court

The upstairs auditorium at Sloane Square has been stripped back (I didn’t even know the space had windows) by designer Ultz, for Nathaniel Martello-White’s new play. The gathering of an extended family to discuss their painful past is part community meeting part trial, with memories explored and dissected.

Their shared secret is a painful one – the childhood abuse of Angel, who has convened this conference. The play is full of discomforting observations on race and aspiration, offering insight into the impact of abuse on a whole family. Traces of neglect that go back a generation, and anger and confusion carried forward, are painfully rendered and cumulatively overpowering.

Credit to director Richard Twyman, aided by a superb cast, for marshalling a show that, even at 90 minutes long, feels mammoth. Seated in a circle for a lot of the play, we can look anywhere at any time for a committed performance. Franc Ashman, Lorna Brown, Kirsty Bushell and Indra Ové are equally praiseworthy as the four sisters but, if there is a lead credit, Adelle Leonce as Angel fully deserves it. The men in the cast are strong too, with James Hillier grabbing attention as Angel’s stepfather.

With a touch too much backstory for some characters and at least one superfluous subplot, the play’s construction feels overworked. But its formal qualities are adventurous and memorable. Scenes are not presented chronologically. Action and dialogue overlap. Who is remembering what is seldom pinned down. As if all that weren’t demanding enough, there’s some odd language, including clunky flights of fancy, with group discussions interspersed with internal dialogues, one-to-one fights and characters moving back in time to younger stages of life.  Various cast members also adopt the role of the grandmother (confusing if you didn’t sneak a peek at the programme before hand).

I was reminded of a video installation, which is one of the character’s jobs, such as Ragnar Kjartansson’s multi-screen show at the Barbican: the audience decides which character to follow. Or a party game played in the piece, where characters making animal noises have to ‘zone in’ on their designated partner. There’s a fine line between all this being engaging and being just a turn off. At times, Torn appears simply obtuse. It’s the author’s prerogative to decide how much aid he gives an audience. I confess I could have done with a little more help here.

Until 15 October 2016


Photo by Helen Maybanks

“You For Me For You” at the Royal Court

American playwright Mia Chung’s work, for the Royal Court’s wonderfully intimate upstairs auditorium, is the tale of two sisters, Minhee and Junhee, who try to defect from a North Korean regime so sinister it is rendered surreal.

Minhee fails, becoming trapped inside a well, beginning a bizarre journey inside her own consciousness and the national identity that has psychologically entrapped her. Wendy Kweh gives a convincing performance as a tortured soul.

Brilliantly visualised and staged by designer Jon Bausor and director Richard Twyman, a vault-like stage with mirrors and projections creates a visual kaleidoscope of action and paranoia. There’s even a bunny rabbit hanging around.

As a technique for understanding the despotic state, the magical realism employed fits well with Chung’s observations on time. You might feel the need for more raw data about North Korea (although that’s hardly the playwright’s job), but the bureaucratic nightmares experienced are depressingly predictable.

Katie Leung and Daisy Haggard
Katie Leung and Daisy Haggard

Junhee’s experience is only slightly less fantastical, and America becomes a subject for Chung’s play, as she ostensibly explores the ’other’. The electrifying stroke is to show the experience of learning English – encountering Daisy Haggard in a variety of roles –moving from speaking gibberish to gradually becoming comprehensible. The technique allies us with Katie Leung’s powerfully performed Junhee, while Haggard gives a literally breath-taking performance.

A fast-paced play, this sibling story doesn’t move as much emotionally as it might. Maybe the sisters’ devotion is taken too much for granted. Possibly Minhee’s tragic backstory is revealed just a little too slowly. But the production is superb and the play highlights the desperation of refugees, from anywhere in the world, with more than its fair serving of poetic moments.

Until 9 January 2016


Photos by Tristram Kenton